No this is not a a Radoslav Trlajić reference, though perhaps the Balkans are in fact a pond too small for such creatures, err, nevermind.
Rest assured, when you take a cooling spring dip in a Serbian creek, tiptoe into the froth under Kravice falls or open your eyes in the clear springs of the Adriatic, you are not likely be met by the steely eyes of a predator larger and stronger than you, at least not by our old friend the croc. Which is not say that the Balkans does not have some great wild places and wildlife, on the contrary, it has much of Europe’s best (or so I’m told), but more of that later. However, all this may indeed change, as I have indeed been offered vast amounts of capital and cash (not to mention free 14 year old women, wine, guns, tracts of land and other randomly assorted stereotypes) to hunt down, create or merely import and the first true Balkan crocodile.
It’s a simple story, involving the usual things like small amounts of beer, vodka, a foreigner trying to speak a bit in the native tongue and of course, what no good story can do without, a few hardy locals.
I’d just arrived in Montenegro that day, in Kotor, and wanted to go out and meet some people. The nice young Serbian receptionist whose name I will have to return to Kotor to remember told me of a place that was having a party that night, so I quickly put on my makeup and half an hour later stepped out of the hostel to find the place.
Luckily for me the bar was full of people so I didn’t have to worry about the fact that my shoes are now looking somewhat less than new; nobody had enough eyeroom to cast a glance that low. I did what I usually do; walk in, order a beer, stand somewhere unobtrusive and look around to see if anyone will talk to me. After which I did again what often happens, find people absorbed in their own conversations with friends. This is always the point where you have to actually step off the edge slightly, as you know through faith that there is usually another invisible net that will actually catch you and propel the whole experience forward. It’s hard work, disgustingly difficult, but then again, sometimes you do actually have to, out of the blue, talk to people you’ve never met and have no clue about. So I did.
‘ćao, odakle ste?’
‘Australiya! Odlicno, haha, kangaroo.’
‘Haha, i crocodile.’
‘možete li mi……………………………………..crocodile.’
‘Err……… ne razumien.’
‘Ah, okay. Can u get me crocodile?’
‘Crocodile, we want crocodile, baby one, maybe two. Many you have in Australia yes?’
‘Yes, and they like to eat you, why do you want a crocodile?’
‘Because in Balkan we have no crocodile and we want one. My friend has credit card, he can pay for crocodile anything.’
‘Yes anything. You look, he give you credit card to trust, how much cost crocodile?’
‘Da, how much? Are you gay?’
‘What. No, why?’
‘I just ask. We have everything here in Balkan but no crocodile. I also not gay, this my girlfriend’.
‘Hello. I’m not really his girlfriend you know. Mmhh, your perfume smells nice.’
‘Thank you, it’s made from crocodile you know.’
‘Yes, it’s a natural perfume’.
‘Da. This why we want crocodile. It’s natural, like us in Balkan, we natural people’, my initial friend whose name I also don’t know chimed back in.
‘Da, I like this, this why I like Balkans as well’. My English was starting to go out the window also, though perhaps it’s just a merging of minds after 2 shots of vodka.
‘Okay, super, then you get us crocodile?’
At this point I’m trying hard not to laugh, not at anyone in particular but the pure hilarity of the conversation. I also realize I have a credit card in my top pocket which my friend’s friend has put in there.
‘See, you is my credit card, we pay anything. I also have best quality cocaine, we can swap crocodile for cocaine’?
‘Ahh okay, I will have to ask my friends in Australia. Do you want two? Then you can breed them, otherwise one crocodile will become lonely and just die. No, you can’t have just one, it’s two or nothing, sorry.’
‘Ok ok. You love crocodile yes. Credit card for man crocodile, cocaine for woman crocodile.’
‘Yes, I love crocodile, but be careful. They will love you too, at first, and then perhaps they will want to eat you.’
‘Eat me? Okay, no problem, i feed them wild pig from mountains.’
I turn around to gather my head and hear broken bits of ‘muški………ženski….crocodile…. da’ somewhere amongst the thousand on other Crnogorski voices and of course realize that the rest of the table we are sitting at has also been discussing the proposition amongst themselves. And yes, they were all serious, which I felt fairly soon after the conversation started. I’m sure they thought it was a long shot that they’d find someone who could actually bring them a crocodile but they really wanted one, even though they didn’t have a zoo or any suitable habitat to put them in beside their own backyards.
‘Hey, Želite li još jedno pivo’?
‘Još jedno pivo? Ok, U redu, zašto ne.’
So we all drink another round and stop talking, it’s nice to just turn around and watch peoples’ mouths in motion without taking part for a moment or two. Soon enough all the boys start talking amongst themselves again and then turn back to me. I know by this stage what they’re going to say.
‘So will it be happen?’
‘The crocodiles you mean. I don’t know, but I will try. I don’t have any just sitting around in my backyard you know, they’re actually a little bit hard to control when they’re adults, but I will ask some people about exporting them. If it is possible I think you will need to convince someone that there will be a proper habitat for them to live in, like a zoo with lots of water and plenty of food’.
‘Don’t worry, I go shoot some wild pig, many wild pig, and we have lots of water, it is Adriatic, err, ocean, da, just there! (he points out the door, it’s true the Adriatic is less than a hundred metres away). Meet us here 6 o’clock in evening and tell us if you have crocodile for us, okay?’
‘Okay, no problem. But not crocodile, crocodiles remember; two or nothing remember.’
‘Da, da, yes, of course.’
‘Okay ćao, laku noć.’
‘Laku noć. Videmo se sutra…..’, and a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t understand, being just a baby of a new language and all that.
I returned to the bar the next evening like we’d arranged. There was nobody there except the woman behind the bar but she remembered and called our friend on her phone. He turned up five minutes later with one of the others from last night as well as someone else I didn’t recognize.
‘Hi, do you have my crocodiles?’
‘Not yet, everyone in Australia is asleep at the moment, but I sent out some messages, we’ll see if we have any success’.
‘Okay. My friend here also want to ask you something.’
‘Okay, go on.’
‘I want shark, real one, not pretend scared one like here.’
‘Oh, you want something that will eat you if you don’t eat it first.’
‘Of course. Natural!’
O, moj Bože, here we go again.
Well, have you ever seen a fish smoke? I hadn’t until tonight, where I witnessed a young spiky cod of sorts smoke half a cigarette. It sucked it in like a true smoker and spat it back out twice, both times after having had half a dozen good draws. Deep sea toker. If only I’d had my camera, but perhaps this wasn’t a paparazzi moment. Fish have honor and deserve a certain amount of respect too I’m sure.
Three of us had been out amongst some small stony buildings somewhere on the lovely little road between Tivat and Kotor, helping to haul in some net lines full of silver glow in the dark sardines, and returned to the frozen seafood shop in town to see where all the big and little fellas went to die. My friend tried to pull a bloated flathead of sorts out of the tank but it wouldn’t slip into his grasp so he went for the little sister who was far tamer, or so I thought. Ten seconds later she had a fag hanging out and was chugging away like an old hand. I was waiting to see if it could blow the smoke back out through its gills, only later realising fish don’t actually breathe out, they just pass deoxygenated water out through their gill covers. I guess you learn something new every day.
This one was just about as impressive and humorous as the Balkan crocodile hunt, though that’s another story.